The natural world abounds with fascinating animals, and many wander into books for young people. Here we feature fiction and nonfiction titles where animals are the main focus or play an important supporting role. Whether they are cuddly and adorable or a reminder of the wildness of nature, animals of all sorts intrigue those of us who walk upright.
A Beetle Is Shy. Dianna Hutts Aston. Ill. Sylvia Long. 2016. Chronicle.
This excellent writer–illustrator team uses their sixth title to highlight the seemingly infinite variety of beetles and the characteristics and behaviors that make them so interesting. Sticking to the pattern used in their earlier nature-themed books, A Beetle Is Shy begins by identifying one attribute of beetles—shyness—before covering several other attributes of beetles, and then circling back to the declaration that while some beetles are shy, others are quite bold. Well-chosen words describe various beetles and their life cycles, and acknowledge they can both help and harm. Young readers are sure to be intrigued to learn about places where beetles serve as a food source for humans. The extraordinarily detailed watercolor illustrations perfectly complement the text, placing readers into the beetles’ interesting world. Particularly noteworthy is one illustration showing the North American Featherwing Beetle next to a needle and thread, a terrific depiction of size when compared to an ordinary household object since this beetle is so tiny. A double-page spread at the end of the book features 28 beetles whose sometimes drab, sometimes iridescent colors not only highlight their differences but provide evidence of Mother Nature’s fondness for her own jewels.
Cat Nap. Toni Yuly. 2016. Feiwel & Friends.
Young cat-lovers will readily relate to this color-drenched picture book with its depiction of the behavioral differences between a kitten eager for play and an older, sedate cat—quite possibly mirroring the differences between the behavior of adult humans and toddlers. While Cat clings to his daily routine, filled with plenty of naps, Kitten simply wants a playmate. The wily Cat tolerates the upstart’s attention before suggesting they play a hiding game, but Cat only hides briefly before Kitten finds him. Quickly growing weary of the game and Kitten’s attention, Cat heads off for a well-deserved nap, only to find that Kitten has chosen his preferred napping place as a bed. This adorable read-aloud offers plenty of interesting visuals and text to hold the attention of young children before naptime.
Bad Kitty Goes to the Vet. Nick Bruel. 2016. Roaring Brook.
Anyone who has tried to wrangle a cat into its carrier for a trip to the vet knows this story. There's just something about an impending trip to the doctor that causes many cats, including Kitty, to freak out and head for parts unknown or to lash out viciously. The book's cover foretells the plot: It features an illustration of Kitty, fur bristling, tail pointed skyward, and eyes bulging as a hand with a thermometer approaches and bandages fly through the air. Poor Kitty has lost her appetite, which prompts her human companion to schedule a trip to the veterinarian. Readers will laugh at the collection of protective equipment gathered to get her into the carrier, including padding, duct tape, and even a welding mask. After her appointment, Kitty dreams of her future if she doesn't change her behavior toward Puppy, her constant, seemingly clueless victim. Filled with humorous illustrations depicting Kitty at her best and her worst, the book also weaves in interesting information about veterinarians and pet care. Although there is sweetness kneaded into the storyline, Bad Kitty doesn't disappoint fans as she reverts to normal Bad Kitty behavior. Anyone who needs a pick-me-up will enjoy this book, filled as it is with snarky humor and a cat that lovingly epitomizes the worst in feline behavior.
Fabulous Frogs. Martin Jenkins. Ill. Tim Hopgood. 2016. Candlewick.
Although most of us will never see more than a handful of them, there are more than 5,000 species of frogs in the natural world. Beginning with the enormous Goliath frog and concluding with the intriguing Australian water-holding frog and one common frog that most readers are sure to recognize, this book presents plenty of interesting information about these amphibians. An index encourages readers to revisit the text to think more deeply about how frogs breathe, the sounds they make, and other characteristics and behaviors. This well-designed celebration of frogs, with its lively text and stunning mixed-media illustrations, will make readers wish there were even more frogs on its pages. Even the endpapers feature tadpoles and egg tape strips. Fabulous Frogs will appeal to anyone interested in frogs but will also kindle interest in others, who will find the information hard to resist. As a passionate introduction to frogs, the book will intrigue young readers while avoiding overwhelming them with too many details.
Lucky. Chris Hill. 2016. Chicken House/Scholastic.
In the tradition of the well-loved Redwall series, this chapter book follows the adventures of Lucky, a red squirrel who has been separated from others like him. Instead, he finds himself surrounded by large gray squirrels in unfamiliar terrain in Albion Park. Fortunately, First Daughter befriends him, and Lucky becomes fast friends with the athletically-gifted Nimlet. To Lucky’s dismay, the gray squirrels are engaged in plots of intrigue and political posturing, and he becomes caught up in the conflict between the Northender squirrels and the Cloudfoots. Readers will enjoy the resemblance to humans borne by different characters in the story, populated as it is with villains, a slightly-ditsy heroine who ends up saving the day, and unexpected sources of betrayal. The antics of the neighborhood dogs and a fox add humor to this story that will leave readers chittering for more.
Prairie Dog Song: The Key to Saving North America’s Grasslands. Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore. Ill. Susan L. Roth. 2016. Lee & Low.
History is filled with periods when humans have carelessly destroyed the environment, subsequently threatening the existence of the animals that depend on certain habitats to survive. An excellent reminder of what happens when certain species are removed from their habitats, this book describes how the intrusion of humans on prairie grasslands and deserts of North America caused many native flora and fauna to disappear. Decades after this loss, a scientist happens upon an area in Mexico where the grasslands still thrive. He comes to realize the importance of a keystone species such as prairie dogs. The book tells the story of this special area, now preserved and populated with species that thrive there, through "Prairie Dog Song," a song about what happened, and additional text that expands on the events described in the song. The stunning illustrations, created in paper and fabric collage, are filled with thousands of paper strips representing the prairie grass. This book would be a great introduction to a unit about the interconnection of species and serves as a cautionary tale for those who support the eradication of wolves and other species. As often as humans lay waste to the world around them, they can also heal its wounds.
Maybe a Fox. Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee. 2016.Caitlyn Dlouhy/Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
Jules and her older sister Sylvie are very close and enjoy living on their rural New England property with their father and spending time with their friend Sam. While Sylvie races through life, inspired by the speed of Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jules loves rocks and spends hours sorting and categorizing them. When Sylvie disappears one day while running through the woods, the family is devastated. But Senna, a young red fox, watches over Jules and leads her to the truth about her sister. Loss is threaded through this book as each of the characters is coping with grief and the absence of loved ones. For instance, Elk, Sam's older brother, has returned safely from Afghanistan, but without his best friend Zeke. In the end, the characters find comfort in the realization they have one another and the knowledge that those who left them mattered and are still with them in some way. The sound of one farmer’s continuously blasting gun foreshadows the book's conclusion.
Terror at Bottle Creek. Watt Key. 2016. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Thirteen-year-old Cort has had it with both of his parents. After his mother wants nothing to do with his father because she’s fed up with the rural lifestyle that comes with being married to an Alabama swamp guide, his father still has hopes she’ll come back to him. As the town prepares for an impending hurricane, Cort and the two Stovall girls are separated from the adults. They head into the swamp in order to stay as safe as they possibly can from Hurricane Igor, a category three hurricane that causes storm surges and makes it impossible for them to return to the safety of the Stovall house. Not surprisingly, as the youngsters seek higher ground among the area's mounds and trees, other species have the same idea, and they end up competing for sanctuary with wild hogs, a bear, snakes, and alligators. The book is fast-paced, filled with plenty of action, and features a never-say-die protagonist whose fears and heroics are quite believable. Readers will come to realize that sometimes the decisions made under pressure may not be sound ones but seem to be the only options. The author effectively captures the sights, sounds, and smells associated with a hurricane as well as the efforts citizens make to keep their property safe. Readers will worry no one will leave that swamp alive since all of the characters come far too close to nature.
The Killing Jar. Jennifer Bosworth. 2016. Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Seventeen-year-old Kenna Marsden has unusual and somewhat frightening gifts that she has never harnessed. Several years ago, with only a touch, she killed a boy who had tortured and killed her sister's cat and its kittens. Since then, she has kept this ability a secret. But when her twin sister and mother are assaulted and killed after her performance at a folk music festival, her special powers awaken again, and she revives her family members. Unsure what to do with Kenna, her mother sends her off to Eclipse, a local commune where she can learn how to make the most of her powers. Despite how comfortable she feels with others like her, including the grandmother she never knew existed, Kenna remains wary and curious about their strong connection with moths. When she eventually learns the secret behind the attractiveness and youthfulness of those who live in the commune, she is understandably horrified. Teen readers will appreciate Kenna’s dilemma as she vacillates between her strong feelings for Blake, the kind-hearted boy next door at home, and for Cyrus, who gently teaches her about her heritage at the commune. The passages in which Kenna explores and then learns to rein in her powers as well as her struggles with the alluring nature of a blissed-out life are particularly well-written. It’s interesting to ponder how an entire society exists right below the surface of Kenna’s mundane one and speculate about what started all the moth-worshipping.
Barbara A. Ward teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in literacy at Washington State University, Pullman. She spent 25 years teaching in the public schools of New Orleans, where she worked with students from kindergarten through high school at several ability levels. She is certified in elementary education, English education, and gifted education. She holds a bachelor's in communications, a master's in English Education from the University of Tennessee and a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG) and are published weekly on Literacy Daily.
With the popularity and proliferation of book series, fitting recommended titles into just one review was impossible. This post features both the latest books in episodic series that can be read in any order and first books in new series. We have included a picture book and some early chapter books for younger readers and books with complex plots in a variety of genres for older readers. All will leave readers eagerly waiting for the next book in the series.
Bear & Hare, Where’s Bear? Emily Gravett. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In this third Bear & Hare picture book, the two friends play hide-and-seek. As Hare counts from 1 to10, Bear hides behind a floor lamp. He chooses equally poor hiding places during two more turns. Bear isn’t good at seeking either. He looks for Hare inside a teapot, under a rug, behind a picture, and in an obviously empty bed. Observant children will notice that Bear actually is close to discovering Hare just as he gives up and snoozes in the bed. Tired of waiting to be found, Hare also gives up and goes in search of Bear. Gravett’s text is spare, and her illustrations rendered in pencil, watercolor, and wax crayon, featuring the two friends at play against expansive white backgrounds, are expressive and warmly humorous. —CA
Buster the Very Shy Dog in the Great Bone Game (Buster #3). Lisze Bechtold. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In the two short chapters of this beginning reader, Buster, the brown, big-eyed, very shy puppy who comes to live at Roger’s house, must deal with Phoebe, a bone-collecting dog. “Rich is when you have lots of bones,” according to Phoebe. Phoebe tricks Buster out of his bones by offering lessons in training the bones to stay. Next, Phoebe involves Buster in her plan to steal the enormous bone of an enormous dog, Gregory, who lives next door, using her train-a-bone-to-stay trick. The plan goes awry as Phoebe is caught with the bone in her mouth. Buster, however, now feels as rich as Phoebe because he has a new friend. Bechtold’s ink-and-watercolor cartoon-like illustrations clearly express the different personalities of the three dogs and the humor of their interactions. —CA
March of the Mini Beasts (The DATA Set #1). Ada Hopper. Ill. Sam Ricks. 2016. Little Simon/Simon & Schuster.
Gabriel Martinez, Laura Reyes, and Cesar Moreno are second graders at Newtonburg Elementary School. Calling themselves the DATA (Danger! Action! Trouble! Adventure!) Set, they hang out in their super futuristic treehouse and solve mysteries. After Dr. Gustav Bunsen, a mad scientist neighbor, uses his growth ray machine on their plastic toy animals, they come to life and begin to grow exponentially, and the children must find a way to take care of them. When Dr. Bunsen uses his time portal machine on Stego, Gabe’s favorite toy, the dinosaur gets whisked back to the Jurassic period, and so do they. In Book 2, Don’t Disturb the Dinosaurs (2016), the DATA Set must figure out how to return home from the Age of the Dinosaurs. With short chapters, numerous black-and-white illustrations, and fast-paced adventure, this series is a good choice for readers ready for transitional chapter books. —NB
Audacity Jones to the Rescue (Audacity Jones #1). Kirby Larson. 2016. Scholastic.
Well-read because she spends so much time in the Punishment Room (the library) of Miss Maisie’s School for Wayward Girls in Swayzee, IN, 11-year-old orphan Audacity (“Audie”) Jones is curious to see more of the world. When mysterious Commodore Crutchfield comes to the school seeking an orphan to assist him in a special mission, Audie eagerly volunteers. All she knows is that the mission involves a trip to Washington and has something to do with President Taft. As this humor-filled melodramatic adventure story unfolds, Audie is aided by Min, her clever cat, who has stowed away in the auto they are traveling in, and friends she makes in DC., including Juice, a newsboy, and Daddy Dub, his grandfather, who live in the White House stables. Together they foil the plan of the commodore and his accomplice, Eva Finch, to kidnap President Taft’s niece. The author’s note makes clear what is fiction and what is fact in this first adventure of Audacity Jones. —CA
A Dragon’s Guide to Making Your Human Smarter (A Dragon’s Guide #2). Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder. Ill. Mary GrandPré. 2016. Crown/Random House.
In this sequel to A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans (2015), Miss Drake, a 3,000-year-old dragon who can disguise herself as a human, arranges for Winnie, her pet human, to attend The Spriggs Academy, an extraordinary school for humans and magicals. Granddad Jarvis is plotting anew to kidnap Winnie, and Miss Drake and her cronies are intent on foiling his plan. When Nanette, Winnie’s nemesis at school, traps her into assisting in her magic act at the Halloween Festival and the trick goes terribly wrong, Granddad Jarvis finally has the evidence he needs to step in legally and have the court declare Winnie’s mother unfit. If Winnie can discover the secret word that Great-Aunt Amelia, his sister, used to control him, can a miracle happen to keep her, her mother, and Miss Drake together? Adventure, magic, humor, and charming black-and-white spot illustrations pull readers through action-packed chapters told from the alternating perspectives of Winnie and Miss Drake. —NB
The Great White Shark Scientist (Scientists in the Field). Sy Montgomery. Photographs by Keith Ellenbogen. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
In her latest Scientists in the Field book, Sy Montgomery introduces readers to the great white shark. She follows the work of shark biologist Dr. Greg Skomal and his research team during a summer as they video record and tag great white sharks in the waters off Cape Cod and then gets a close-up look at great white sharks in a dive in a submersible cage with Mexican biologist Erick Higuera off Guadalupe Island. By including numerous quotations, Montgomery shows the researchers’ enthusiasm in spite of the often routine and disappointing nature of their work (limiting weather conditions, infrequent shark sightings). The book contains an abundance of color photographs taken by Keith Ellenbogen from both the research vessels and a small spotter plane. One- to four-page inserts at the end of chapters provide additional information on research and conservation efforts related to the great white shark. Back matter includes shark maps, a bibliography, web resources, acknowledgments, and an index. —CA
Poison Is Not Polite (Wells & Wong Mystery #2). Robin Stevens. 2016. Simon & Schuster.
In 1930s England, the Detective Society duo of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong (joined by boarding school chums Kitty and Beanie) unexpectedly take on a new case during a holiday at Fallingford, the country estate of Lord and Lady Hastings, Daisy’s parents, when a houseguest, Denis Curtis, falls ill at Daisy’s 14th birthday party and dies. The Detective Society believes the unlikeable Mr. Curtis, who had a keen interest in the valuable antiques and paintings in the mansion as well as in Lady Hastings, was poisoned with arsenic-laced tea. Severe flooding has isolated Fallingford—no one can leave and the police cannot enter. It is up to the Detective Society to examine the motives and opportunities of all suspects and identify the murderer before the police arrive, particularly because Lord Hastings looks like the prime suspect. Readers who missed the first book, Murder Is Bad Manners (2015), will want to read it while they wait for the next book in the series. —CA
Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices #1). Cassandra Clare. 2016. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.
It is five years after the Dark War (in the final book of The Mortal Instruments series), and there are new Cold Peace laws to prevent Shadowhunters from mixing into faerie business. Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn are parabatai, shadowhunters sworn to be platonically loyal to each other forever. Living in the Institute in Southern California, Emma and Julian illegally investigate recent murders of mundanes and faeries for clues to the unsolved murders of Emma’s parents years before. In an illegal bargain between Julian and the King of the Hunt, who kidnapped Mark, his half-fey brother, five years earlier, Mark is returned to them for two weeks to help solve the murders. Emma, Julian, his family, and Cristina, a visiting Shadowhunter from Mexico, face a deadline as they search for the complex truth against a ticking clock with them as the next victims. Throughout the novel, refrains from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem “Annabel Lee” resound like a haunting melody, providing clues about the murders, but nothing prepares Emma and Julian—and the reader—for the truth as it explodes into the final chapter. The Dark Artifices trilogy promises to keep excitement running at a high pitch for Cassandra Clare fans. —NB
Shades of Darkness (Ravenborn #1). A.R. Kahler. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
Kaira Winters transfers to Islington Arts Academy, in the woods of Michigan, as a junior visual arts student to escape from what happened to her at her former school. She strives to put the past behind her by throwing herself into her coursework and preparing for her senior project show, a paint and collage display of her life in tarot cards. However, Kaira can’t escape the crows that have followed her to the boarding school; she sees them everywhere, on her windowsill, on buildings, and in her nightmares. Remembering what happened previously, her number one rule is to never fall in love again but, when Chris, an enamored classmate, wants to get to know her better, her resolve falters. After two girls commit suicide, Kaira feels responsible for not protecting them. Is there something cosmic at work here, a power that demands payment to even the score? When her academic advisor and literature teacher insists that she attend his independent group study on arcane aspects of mythology, the unimaginable happens and changes everything. The book ends with a totally unexpected twist, leaving loose ends that whet the reader’s appetite for Book 2. —NB
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Follow clues, break codes, decipher maps, complete puzzles, and gather evidence—readers can do all this and more as they read well-crafted mystery and detective stories. Whether they are reading chapter books as beginning readers or novels as mature teens, readers will enjoy trying to solve the mysteries within the pages of these recently published novels.
The Case of the Feathered Mask (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins #4). Holly Webb. Ill. Marion Lindsay. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Twelve-year-old Maisie Hitchins is concerned when a rare tribal mask belonging to Professor Tobin, a lodger in her grandmother’s boarding house, is stolen on the eve of his special exhibit at the British Museum. How do a feather, a mysterious stranger, Dacre’s Museum of Curiosities, and a boy from the past tie into a story that began years ago in the Amazon? In this latest book in the series, amateur sleuth Maisie takes on new challenges to solve this crime, one clue at a time. Short, action-packed chapters, accompanied by pen-and-ink line drawings, make this an ideal book for newly independent readers, as well as an engaging read-aloud. —NB
Hamster Holmes: On the Right Track (Hamster Holmes #3). Albin Sadar. Ill. Valerio Fabbretti. 2016. Simon Spotlight/Simon & Schuster.
Famous inventor Springy Beaver thinks someone is stealing his ideas. Tools and notebooks have gone missing, and now he’s discovered paw prints in his workroom. Is the culprit after his secret invention? Hamster Holmes and Dr. Watt, his firefly sidekick who communicates using Morse Code by flashing his light on and off, are on the case. (Readers can use the Morse Code chart in Hamster Holmes’s office to decode what Dr. Watt is communicating in the cartoon illustrations of this Ready-to-Read book.) Holmes and Watt seem to be on the right track when they identify the culprit as a weasel, but the weasel prints turn out to be fake. Not to worry: With more sleuthing and clever deduction, Homes and Watt solve the case. —CA
The Mystery of the Secret Society (Greetings From Somewhere #10). Harper Paris. Ill. Marcos Calo. 2016. Little Simon/Simon & Schuster.
Eight-year-old twins Ethan and Ella have just arrived in Greece with their parents. They soon are involved in more interesting things than sightseeing. After exploring the archaeological dig their parents are working on, the twins discover mysterious carvings on a tunnel wall. Why does the coin Ethan’s grandfather gave him match these carvings? What is behind the hidden door they unlock? What are they supposed to do with a secret notebook from the Society of Apollo? With short chapters, an abundance of illustrations, lively adventures, and just the right amount of danger, books in this series of mysteries the twins encounter as they travel around the world are perfect chapter books for beginning readers. —NB
The Video Game Bandit (Hardy Boys Clue Book #1). Franklin W. Dixon. Ill. Matt David. 2016. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.
The Bayport Bandits baseball team is holding a fundraiser. When it’s time for bidding on the biggest prize, a ZCross5000 video game system, they discover the item has gone missing. Frank and Joe Hardy must work quickly to identify suspects and recover the ZCross5000 before all the team supporters leave the auction. On page 65, readers are challenged to solve the mystery of the video game bandit before they read the final chapter to find out whether they were as successful as the Hardy Boys in solving the case. In Book #2 of this new series, The Missing Playbook (2016), Frank and Joe solve the mystery of The Bayport Bandits’ missing secret playbook. —CA
Doom at Grant’s Tomb (Eddie Red Undercover #3). Marcia Wells. Ill. Marcos Calo. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Eddie Red, NYPD’s youngest undercover employee, uses his photographic memory and quick-draw artistic skills to solve crimes. When mysterious notes directed at Eddie are delivered to the police station, he is brought in to solve the mystery. How are a renowned art thief from Eddie’s past, the Irish Republican Army, the Trojan Horse, and a duchess connected? In cat-and-mouse code-breaking challenges from the illusive “Fox,” Eddie follows a trail of clues that take him to historical monuments and city landmarks to save lives and stop heists. This latest book in the Edgar-nominated mystery series, filled with maps and puzzles, will hold the attention of readers until the end. A short epilogue includes “How to Be a Cryptographer” instructions for breaking codes. —NB
Friday Barnes Girl Detective (Friday Barnes #1). R.A. Spratt. Ill. Phil Gosier. 2016. Roaring Brook.
Eleven-year-old Friday Barnes is a self-educated genius and a lover of mystery and detective stories. When Friday solves a jewelry theft, she uses the $50,000 reward for one year of tuition at Highcrest Academy, an elite boarding school. There she makes her first friend, her roommate, Melanie, and faces her first nemesis, the school’s previous top student, Iain Wainscott. Gaining a reputation for sleuthing by solving typical school-related mysteries, including proving that the school dog was responsible for eating a student’s missing homework, Friday takes on the case of a student-terrorizing yeti monster in a swamp on the school grounds. The mixing of plenty of humor with Friday’s erudite deductive skills makes this an engaging detective story. The surprising cliff-hanging ending will leave readers anxious for the next book in the series. —CA
Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter. Beth Fantaskey. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Isabel Feeney, 10-year-old newsgirl, dreams about becoming a writer like her hero, Maude Collier. When a murder occurs in the alley right next to her newsstand and her favorite customer, Miss Giddings, is a prime suspect, Isabel feels compelled to prove her innocence. Befriended by Maude Collier, the only female crime reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Isabel launches her own secret investigation. The more clues she uncovers, the more danger she faces as she inadvertently steps into the mobster scene of the 1920s. This mystery is a page-turner with plenty of clues to keep readers engaged. With its Historical Note at the end on female crime reporters from the 1920s, this mystery would be an interesting addition for Women’s History Month bookshelves in schools and libraries. —NB
Defender. Graham McNamee. 2016. Wendy Lamb/Random House.
Tyne “Tiny” Greer, 6-foot-6 high school basketball star, is an unlikely person to solve a murder that occurred in “The Zoo,” the tenement where she lives with her mother and father, the building superintendent. Her focus is on getting a college sports scholarship, the only hope she has of escaping the poverty in which she has been raised. When she discovers a body in a crumbling basement wall, her father insists that she saw only a pile of trash and that side effects of pain pills she’s taking for a knee injury have caused her to hallucinate. Aided by Stick, her boyfriend, Tiny returns to the site for a closer look, delves into dangerous family secrets better left alone, and tips the delicate balance of her family dynamics. —NB
The Lie Tree. Frances Hardinge. 2016. Amulet/Abrams.
Rev. Erasmus Sunderly, a gentleman natural scientist, has whisked his family away from Victorian London to the remote island of Vane, ostensibly to participate in an archaeological dig, but more likely to escape scandal involving an accusation of faking fossil finds. Fourteen-year-old Faith has a keen curiosity in her father’s work, but is discouraged from pursuits considered inappropriate for females. She is aware her father is in conflict with the men involved with the dig, and when he asks her to help spirit away one of his living specimens in a dark cave along the coast, she is eager to assist him. Soon after, Rev. Sunderly is found dead. Suicide? After examining his research notes about the Mendacity Tree (a tree that must be kept in the dark, grows when fed lies, and bears fruit that, when eaten, imparts secret truths), Faith sets out to use the hidden tree to prove that her father was murdered. The writing is beautiful, the setting is superbly developed, the characters are well rounded, and the story is a complex blending of fantasy and historical mystery. The Lie Tree is a satisfying read for readers age 12 and up. —CA
The Darkest Corners. Kara Thomas. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.
When 17-year-old Tessa returns to her hometown for her father’s funeral, she reunites with her former best friend, Callie. Together, 10 years earlier, they identified the man who murdered Callie’s cousin and helped put him on death row. The girls haven’t spoken to each other since. Tessa, abandoned by her family and sent to live with her stern grandmother in another state after the trial, sees life through the lens of loss. Callie is popular but numbs herself with alcohol. What happens when Tessa and Callie finally speak about the events of that traumatic night in their young lives? What did they really see? Where are Tessa’s mother and sister, and how do they fit into the events of that night? Readers follow Tessa as she searches for the truth and discovers things about herself and others that she never expected right up to the final page of this dark thriller. —NB
The Incident on the Bridge. Laura McNeal. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
When 17-year-old Thisbe’s car is found abandoned on the bridge, a witness reports seeing her standing near the guardrail. Everyone assumes that she committed suicide. There is no doubt that after Clay, a popular boy at her school, seduced and then dismissed her, Thisbe changed from a serious student to a lost party girl. But was that enough to prompt her to jump? What if she didn’t? Only her younger sister is adamant that Thisbe, who is afraid of heights and water, must still be alive somewhere. This well-written haunting novel, told from rotating points of view of key characters, layers in complicated teen and family relationships with each page turn. —NB
The May Queen Murders. Sarah Jude. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Sixteen-year-old Ivy is from Rowan’s Glen, where people live shrouded in superstition. Shortly after Ivy discovers that her cousin Heather has a secret lover, Heather is discovered dead from belladonna poisoning. Ivy begins delving into her death. Other unexplained things are happening, too, like ritualistic slaughters of family pets and sightings of the legendary ghost, Birch Markle. After several more Glen girls are killed, the town is on lockdown even though the May Queen celebration is still scheduled for the first time in decades. As she explores the myths and relationships of those around her, Ivy finds she’s the next target. With twists and turns, the book takes readers down dark paths to learn the truth. —NB
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, CA. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA.
Literature is an important component in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs that meet the Next Generation Science Standards and the Common Core State Standards. We have selected nonfiction and fiction titles that are good choices for introducing lessons and opening discussions on STEM topics. Some of the books suggest hands-on activities, and all are good for independent reading in the STEM disciplines.
Every Breath We Take: A Book About Air. Maya Ajmera & Dominique Browning. 2016. Charlesbridge.
With beautiful color photographs and simple, clear text, Every Breath We Take considers the need of plants and animals for air, the properties of air, and air pollution. The book emphasizes the right of people around the world to breathe clean air—“Every breath we take should be full of clean air. Clean air is like love. It’s invisible, but it makes life better”—and offers a gentle reminder that keeping air pollution-free is everyone’s responsibility. Appended information, including a “What Can I Do to Help Keep the Air Clean” entry, will be of interest to adults wanting to continue the discussion of topics introduced in the book. —JS
Follow the Moon Home: A Tale of One Idea, Twenty Kids, and a Hundred Sea Turtles. Philippe Cousteau & Deborah Hopkinson. Ill. Meilo So. 2016. Chronicle.
Viv, a newcomer to a South Carolina coastal town, and her classmates take on a summer school project, “Lights Out for Loggerheads,” that brings the whole community together to save newly-hatched turtles. When turtles hatch they are attracted to the bright lights of houses along the beach. Turning away from the sea, they get dehydrated and die. The children’s campaign to get the townspeople to turn outside lights off and darken windows is successful, and baby turtles follow the light of the moon to their home in the ocean. Back matter includes a letter to young activists from Philippe Cousteau outlining five steps for a community action project, a note to parents and teachers, and a two-page section on finding out more about loggerheads and other sea turtles. —CA
My Book of Birds. Geraldo Valério. 2016. Groundwood/House of Anansi.
In the introduction to his “album of artistic impressions of North American birds,” Brazilian-born illustrator Geraldo Valério tells of his childhood interest in the variety of birds and their sense of freedom and his discovery of many more birds when he moved to Canada. Valério’s stylized cut-paper collage portraits, created with old magazine paper, art paper, and gift wrap, emphasize the shape, coloring, and distinctive appearance of each bird. Beautifully composed pages present the birds in their natural habitats, identified by common and scientific names, and notes on their characteristics and behavior. The front endpaper features eggs and the back endpaper feathers, created with color pencil and gouache. Back matter includes a glossary, sources of information (books Valério used in his research, websites, and books of interest to young readers), and an index. —CA
Outdoor Math: Fun Activities for Every Season. Emma AdBåge. 2016. Kids Can.
Outdoor Math takes early math outdoors with 36 activities designed to build skill in counting, measuring, sorting, patterning, time, geometry, and basic arithmetic operations. For instance, children can use objects found outdoor to sort for similarities and differences or to create simple addition or subtraction sentences. Easily adaptable to a variety of ages, the activities make hands-on math something that children can do, with guidance from teachers or parents, just by heading outside throughout the year. —JS
Platypus. Sue Whiting. Ill. Mark Jackson. 2016. Candlewick.
The platypus is an oddity in the animal world. It has a bill and webbed feet like a duck and fur and a tail like a beaver. It is semiaquatic and walks like a reptile on land. It lays eggs, but produces milk for its young, and it has venomous spurs behind its back legs. Platypus tells the story of a day in the life of a male platypus. He spends most of the daylight hours asleep in his burrow beneath the tangled roots of a gum tree along the bank of a creek, and he forages for worms, insect larvae, and crawfish throughout the night. The text appears against realistic mixed-media illustrations of the platypus in its natural environment. Facts related to the story appear in a smaller font. An endnote includes information on the life cycle of this monotreme, or egg-laying mammal, and threats to its survival, including predators and loss of habitat through drought, flooding, land clearing, and water pollution in its native Tasmania and eastern Australia. —CA
Peg + Cat: The Pizza Problem. Jennifer Oxley & Billy Aronson. 2016. Candlewick Entertainment/Candlewick.
Peg and Cat, from the animated PBS series Peg + Cat, have some math problems to solve as they serve up pizza at their newly opened restaurant. What happens when someone wants a whole pizza and someone else orders a half? An engaging first introduction to fractions, this book also sneaks in some more math, including arithmetic-fact page numbers (for example, 26+1=27), as Peg and Cat handle orders and entertain customers whom children who have watched the TV program will recognize. —JS
To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space. Carmella Van Vleet & Dr. Kathy Sullivan. Ill. Nicole Wong. 2016. Charlesbridge.
From a young age, Kathy Sullivan had a passion for adventure and never let others’ ideas of what was acceptable for girls to do stand in her way. This picture book biography alternates double-page spreads, with ink-and-watercolor illustrations, that focus on Kathy as a young girl and Dr. Kathleen Sullivan as an adult about to be launched into outer space as a member of the 1984 NASA Space Shuttlecrew. During this mission, she earned the distinction of being the first woman to take part in an extravehicular activity (EVA), also known as a “spacewalk.” Dr. Sullivan was an active participant in the writing of the book, and lead author Van Vleet does an outstanding job weaving the two time frames together. Back matter includes a personal note from Dr. Sullivan and a two-page spread featuring 13 other American women in the space program. —JS
Everything Robotics (Everything). Jennifer Swanson (with Shah Selbe). 2016. National Geographic Kids.
This book is chock full of text and visual information about robotics. It will take readers days and many close rereadings to digest all the information provided about the history of robotics, the influences of robotics on facets of our lives, and how to get involved with robotics challenges. The formatting of the book, with its abundance of captioned full-color photographs, diagrams, blocks of informative text, sidebars, activities and challenges is inviting. Back matter includes an interactive glossary, web links, places to visit, and an index. —JS
Living Fossils: Clues to the Past. Caroline Arnold. Ill. Andrew Plant. 2016. Charlesbridge.
“Living fossils are a link between the prehistoric world and the present.” After introducing the concept of living fossils with the coelacanth, Arnold presents five animals—horseshoe crabs, dragonflies, sphenodontids, chambered nautiloids, and Latonia frogs—in two double-page spreads featuring realistic portraits of the animal, rendered in acrylic paint, and an accessible text about how scientists believe the animal lived then and how its descendants live now. A boxed inset lists the animal’s adaptations for survival. Back matter includes a timeline, additional information about the featured living fossils, a glossary, and a list of resources (books and websites). —CA
Science Stunts: Fun Feats of Physics. Jordan D. Brown. Ill. Anthony Owlsley. 2016. Imagine/Charlesbridge.
Science Stunts introduces physics principles in an informative and humorous manner that will appeal to middle graders. Physicist/magician Dr. Dazzleberry (with the help of his friends Gaileo, Newton, and Einstein) explores gravity, motion, heat, magnetism, sound, light, and electricity in seven chapters. Each chapter includes a brief introduction to the topic; hands-on experiments (billed as “The Trick”), with step-by-step procedures followed by an easy-to-understand “The Science Behind the Stunt” explanation; and applications of the principle involved. Important safety tips are included and potentially dangerous experiments are labeled with an “adult sidekick needed” warning. Back matter includes brief biographies of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein; a glossary; and an index. —JS
Mission Shark Rescue: All About Sharks and How to Save Them. (Mission Animal Rescue). Ruth A. Musgrave (with Daniel Raven-Ellison). 2016. National Geographic Kids.
This book delivers on the promise of providing readers with a wealth of information about what is often one of students’ marine animals, sharks. Captioned full-color photographs and an engaging text cover the physical characteristics, behavior, and habitats of the different species of sharks. The focus on efforts to save and rejuvenate the populations of various sharks includes “Rescue Activities,” which are placed throughout the book and designed to get readers thinking and acting like shark conservationists to encourage kids to take action in their communities. Back matter includes an extensive resource list for students to continue their learning, a list of places to see sharks around the world, and an index. —JS
The Story of Seeds: From Mendel’s Garden to Your Plate, and How There’s More of Less to Eat Around the World. Nancy F. Castaldo. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Keeping the focus on seeds being at risk, Castaldo presents an engaging introduction to the “story of seeds.” She includes a history of problems related to the lack of crop diversity such as the Irish Potato Famine in the mid-1800s and provides a global report on current threats to the world’s food supply related to habitat loss, climate change, disease, biopiracy, and agroterrorism. She covers the issue of hybridization vs. genetic modification and present-day controversy on GMO labeling, the patenting of seeds, and the growth of gigantic agribusinesses. Throughout the book Castaldo deals with seed conservation through the establishment of seed banks such as the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, seed libraries, and seed exchanges, and introduces “seed warriors,” activists from around the world working to protect seed diversity. Numerous color photographs of seeds and archival photographs add interest. Back matter includes resources, a glossary, an author’s note, sources, a timeline, and an index. —CA
Patterns in Nature: Why the Natural World Looks the Way It Does. Philip Ball. 2016. University of Chicago.
Ball offers readers a visually stunning exploration of pattern formation in the natural world. The abundance of examples (over 300 captioned photographs) accompanying his explanations of the mathematical and physical principles behind the regularity of design within the diversity of nature make this a book to be appreciated for its artistic, mathematical, and scientific contributions to understanding “why the natural world looks the way it does.” The book is organized into nine chapters: Symmetry, Fractals, Spirals, Flow and Chaos, Waves and Dunes, Bubbles and Foam, Arrays and Tiling, Cracks, and Spots and Stripes. Back matter includes a glossary, a further reading section, an index, and credits. Overall, Patterns in Nature is a volume to return to again and again to gain a better understanding of and appreciation for the beauty of the patterns found everywhere in nature. —CA
Jennifer W. Shettel is an associate professor at Millersville University of PA where she teaches undergraduate and graduate course in literacy for preservice and practicing teachers. Prior to joining the faculty at Millersville, she spent 16 years as an elementary classroom teacher and reading specialist in the public schools. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in California.
Readers have a wide selection of recently published books about friendship from which to choose. The books included here explore all types of best friend relationships. For younger readers, there are picture books about an intergenerational friendship, unlikely friendships, and the loss of a friend through death as well as novels about making new friends and changing relationships that come as best friends move in different directions. The novels for older readers deal with the importance of friends in helping each other with difficult life problems and the parting of friends as misunderstandings develop and they come to realize that they may not be able to restore their friendship (or want to do so).
The Girl With the Parrot on Her Head. Daisy Hirst. 2016. Candlewick.
When Isabel gets over being angry and lonely after her best friend Simon moves away, she decides she is OK being on her own. After all, she has the parrot on her head; she doesn’t need friends. Akin to an adult deciding to tackle the long overdue job of cleaning up the garage, Isabel decides to organize her room and, with the help of the parrot, sorts items—castles, bears, broken umbrellas, wolves—into boxes. Parrot (and secretly Isabel, too) worries that the wolf hanging out over the edge is too big for the wolf box. Isabel sets out to find a bigger box to contain the big wolf. The box she finds is occupied by a boy named Chester, who has ideas about what to do with the wolf and also plenty of ideas as to how to use the big box and items in Isabel’s room. Hirst’s screen-printed illustrations are as charming and imaginative as new friends Isabel and Chester are in their play.
Harry and Walter. Kathy Stinson. Ill. Qin Leng. 2016. Annick.
Four-year-old Harry and 92-year-old Walter are neighbors and best friends. They enjoy doing things together until the day a For Sale sign goes up in front of Harry’s house. Harry cries; he doesn’t want to move. Walter tries to console Harry. “Things change. I might have to move someday, too.” Although his new house is nice and he even has a tree house, Harry misses Walter. A year later, folding origami birds like he did with Walter, Harry tosses a paper bird from his tree house—and it flies back to him. Harry looks down and sees Walter. His old friend has moved into an apartment down the street. Leng’s playful, expressive watercolor illustrations complement this warm story of an enduring intergenerational friendship.
Hello, Hippo! Goodbye, Bird! Kristyn Crow. Ill. Poly Bernatene. 2016. Alfred A. Knopf/Random House.
“Hello, Hippo!” A pesky, skinny, long-legged bird’s persistent attempts at befriending a grumpy, plump hippo (showing how he can be a hat, a “hippopota-mustache,” or an umbrella and offering to tell jokes) elicit only “Errrrumphs” and a “Goodbye, Bird!” Bird departs and Hippo delights in being alone. Even after Bird comes to Hippo’s rescue when he is attacked by a swarm of wasps by gobbling up the insects, Hippo still gives Bird a dismissive send off. “For the last time—GOODBYE, BIRD!” Then, in a big thunderstorm (“KA-BOOM!), Hippo cries out for Bird. Does he need Bird to be an umbrella or does he want companionship? The answer comes on the last double-page spread that shows the two frolicking together in the water.
Ida, Always. Carol Levis. Ill. Charles Santoso. 2016. Atheneum/Simon & Schuster.
A thoughtfully worded text and softly colored digital paintings explore the strong, caring friendship of Gus and Ida, polar bears living in a zoo. When Ida becomes ill, Gus becomes her steadfast companion. Then Ida dies. Gus is lonely but sustained by pleasant memories of his friendship with Ida. Although he is now alone, he can still sit in the spot where Ida liked to soak in the sun and listen to the hum of the city. “And Ida is right there. Always.” Based on the true story of polar bears Ida and Gus who lived in the Central Park Zoo in New York City, Ida, Always offers a gentle lesson on friendship and loss.
Monkey and Elephant and the Babysitting Adventure (Monkey and Elephant #5). Carole Lexa Schaefer. Ill. Galia Bernstein. 2016. Candlewick.
Best friends Monkey and Elephant take on something new when they agree to babysit Cousin MeeMee’s three babies, and they are not certain they will be successful. Perhaps they need to establish some rules for dealing with the little monkeys. Their babysitting job turns out to be an adventure that requires the hasty addition of Rule Number 4, “Always keep babies safe,” which they enforce by scaring off three riff raff wildcats that are intent on making the three baby monkeys their snack. This final book in the easy reader Monkey and Elephant series ends as Monkey and Elephant come up with a final rule: To always stay adventure friends —and best friends forever.
The Pages Between Us. Lindsey Leavitt & Robin Mellom. Ill. Abby Dening. 2016. Harper/HarperCollins.
Having vowed to remain best friends forever, Olivia and Piper enter middle school and find that they will be sharing only one class. They make plans to stay connected by passing a notebook back and forth during the day. In the notebook, the two girls communicate with lengthy notes, frequently ending with “grateful for” lists; taped-in invitations and clippings; blog postings by a gossipy classmate; and doodles. Hoping to become more socially involved, they try out some after-school clubs. The problem comes when the two friends find they have very different extracurricular interests. Olivia and Piper’s involvement in separate activities is reflected in changes in the frequency and nature of their entries in the notebook as they come to terms with how to stay the best of friends in spite of diverging interests.
Raymie Nightingale. Kate DiCamillo. 2016. Candlewick.
It’s the fifth of June in 1975 and 10-year-old Raymie Clarke is dealing with a great tragedy. Two days earlier, Raymie’s father, Jim Clarke of Clarke Family Insurance, ran off with a dental hygienist, disgracing himself, and leaving her fatherless. Raymie, however, has a plan: She will win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire contest, get her picture in the paper, her father will see it, and come home to his famous daughter. Needing a talent for the contest, Raymie enrolls in baton-twirling class and meets two other girls with special interests in the contest, Louisiana Elefante, who needs the cash prize, and Beverly Tapsinski, who plans to sabotage the contest. The three very different girls become friends and set out to do some good deeds (a requirement of the contest), which involve them with interesting townspeople and unexpectedly complicated adventures. Not all goes as planned but, with friendships solidified, their futures look brighter. DiCamillo offers young readers a warm and humorous story with characters who are just the kind of good friends they’d like to have.
After the Woods. Kim Savage. 2016. Farrar Straus Giroux.
One year after what the press calls the Shiverton Abduction, Julia, who was kidnapped by a man named Donald Jessup while running in the woods with her best friend, Liv, is still trying to remember what happened during the two days before she escaped. Liv was the intended victim, and Julia’s attack on knife-wielding Donald had allowed her friend to escape. Now Julia can’t understand Liv’s we-survived-so-get-over-it attitude. Jessup has committed suicide in his jail cell, another girl’s body has been found in the same wood, and Liv is behaving oddly. The plot of this psychological thriller becomes increasingly more twisted as Julia begins to recover memories of her abduction and uncovers Liv’s secrets, secrets that make her realize that Liv is not the person she thought she was.
The Last Place on Earth. Carol Snow. 2016. Henry Holt.
Daisy’s best friend, Henry Hawking, and his parents have suddenly disappeared. She knows Henry would never leave without saying goodbye. After several days of worrying, Daisy breaks into the house of the security-conscious Hawkings and discovers a note left on Henry’s desk: SAVE ME. Some further sleuthing, abetted by her brother, Peter, and receipt of a cryptic text from an unknown number leads Daisy into the wilderness of California’s Los Padres National Forest. She finds Henry in a compound of “doomsday preppers,” who are intent on surviving a probable teotwawki (pronounced tee-ought-walkie and standing for “the end of the world as we know it”). Daisy’s wit and sarcasm enlivens this story of courage, loyalty to friends, and love of family as it shifts from Daisy’s reunion with Henry to efforts to reunite with her mother and brother once she learns that the deadly Madagascar plague is a real threat to survival.
The Year We Fell Apart. Emily Martin. 2016. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.
A year ago, Harper destroyed her relationship with Declan, her best friend/boyfriend. Now Declan is back home for the summer after a year of boarding school, but for Harper was a year of destructive behavior involving drinking, drugs, and sex that has destroyed her reputation at school and in family relationships. It appears Declan has moved on since their breakup and wants nothing to do with her. Over the summer, Harper wants to salvage their relationship and to make Declan understand and forgive her for the bad choices she has made, but it is not going to be easy. To move on, the two of them will need to accept that the past cannot be undone and forgive themselves and each other.
Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in California.